—Sgt. Phil Esterhaus in The Teaser of every episode
Hill Street Blues was a serial police drama that was first aired on NBC and ran for 146 episodes from 1981-1987. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a police precinct in an unnamed American city, the show received high critical acclaim and its innovations proved highly influential on serious dramatic television series produced in North America. Its debut season was honored with eight Emmy awards, a debut season record surpassed only by The West Wing, and the show received a total of 98 Emmy Award nominations during its run.The series was unique at the time for being the first to bring together several ideas in TV drama:
Amoral Attorney: Joyce Davenport is a very nuanced version; while her liberal ideology drives her to fight to get her guilty clients off and deride the police as the neighborhood's "Nazi occupation force," over the course of the series she seems to come to appreciate that the police are the good guys.
The policemen's view of her as an adversary is this trope; as a private person, she is pictured as quite moral. This conflict gives her adversary at work/lover in private Frank Furillo some headaches.
Buddy Cops: Though not a Buddy Cop Show in the traditional sense, it featured several more or less permanent pairings: Hill & Renko, Bates & Coffey, La Rue & Washington, Flaherty & Russo.
Belker, with his somewhat unconvetional methods of anger management.
Lt. Hunter. His rather academic and philosphical way of approaching life, coupled with a survivalist right-wing ideology, makes him seem a bit awkward and disconnected from reality at times.
Judge Wachtel, who appears in the courtroom wearing a dress, on the advice of his psychiatrist. He's otherwise presented as a Wholesome Crossdresser, but crossdressing in the courtroom caused a few raised eyebrows.
Don't Tell Mama: When the minor crook that Belker is constantly booking dies in an unrelated gunfight, he finally tells Belker his real name so Belker can at least let his mother know about his death. When Belker talks to her, he tells her about what a fine citizen her son had been.
I'm a Humanitarian: Lieutenant Hunter and a friend are buried in a building collapse and are not found until several days later, the friend having died in the mean time. An autopsy reveals that the friend's body has human bite marks, which leads to Captain Furillo asking Hunter if he ate his friend. Hunter frankly admits to it, saying that he and his friend had made a pact that if they were ever in a desperate enough situation and one of them died, the survivor should use the deceased for sustenance. Furillo orders Hunter to never say a word about it and presumably proceeds to make sure word of it never gets out because having to deal with the frenzy over one of his officers being a cannibal is the last thing he needs to deal with.
Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Mike Post. It was released as a single and hit #10 on the Billboard chart in 1981.
Internal Affairs: In one episode, an IA officer is sent to work undercover in the Hill Street station. The cops uncover her identity and are severely annoyed.
Jitter Cam: Came into wide US use through this series.
The names of some of police precincts (Hill Street, South Ferry, Jefferson Heights) were taken from neighborhoods in Buffalo, and Steven Bochco modeled the Hill Street precinct on Pittsburgh's troubled Hill District.
Philadelphia City Hall was seen in several episodes.
The marked police cars' graphics resemble those of Chicago, and rumor at the time was that the Chicago PD did not allow the producers to use "CHICAGO POLICE" logos and graphics after the experience of The Blues Brothers.
One of the last scenes in the pilot reveals that Furillo and Davenport are lovers.
After getting into difficulties because of his drinking, J.D. La Rue is ordered by Captain Furillo to join AA as a condition of keeping his job. He goes to his first AA meeting and sees recovering alcoholic Captain Furillo there.
Secret Relationship: Captain Frank Furillo and Public Defender Joyce Davenport. In the pilot episode, she spends all day sparring with him. In one of the last scenes, she's seen in the bedroom, complaining to her paramour about how the police are Hill Street's "Nazi occupation force." Then comes The Reveal: her paramour is none other than Police Captain Furillo, the commander of Hill Street precinct! Over the course of the series, the relationship comes out into the open and they eventually marry.
Straw Feminist: In-universe, Fay Furillo is obviously familiar with the trope and takes care to avert it: when she tells her ex-husband that she has joined a feminist group, she emphasises that she is not going to burn her bra. Frank is relieved.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When Michael Conrad died early in Season 4, his Sgt. Esterhaus was replaced with Robert Prosky's Sgt. Jablonski (who was even given a similar catchphrase to close out the briefing at the top of each episode).
SWAT Team: The Hill Street precinct has one of these, headed by Lt. Hunter. It is called the Emergency Action Team rather than the SWAT Team, though.
The Eighties: but in a poor part of town that is very far from the glitzy world of Miami Vice. Also, in the first fews seasons it's the very early Eighties, and much of The Seventies remains.
Two Words: Obvious Trope: One detective to another, discussing why the latter should stay away from a flirty high-school student:
A female witness is being fitted with a Hidden Wire, and a detective suggests that the microphone should be attached to her bra - to which she replies that she will have to go out and buy one first.
Downplayed in the case of Joyce Davenport. When she is shown getting dressed she never puts on a bra. She always wears a camisole under her shirt, though, and usually a jacket on top, so it is never noticeable once she's dressed.
Discussed at roll call one summer morning, when Sgt. Esterhaus mentions that the female officers' request to dispense with supportive undergarments (due to the heat wave) has been denied.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: The identity of the city where the show takes place is never revealed. Some exterior shots, including the outside of the police station, were filmed in Chicago.
Wholesome Crossdresser: Jeffrey Tambor plays the cross-dressing lawyer, later judge, Wachtel, who was doing so on the advice of his psychiatrist "to resolve his feminine-identity issues". It worked.
You Look Familiar: Dennis Franz came in as a very memorable several-episode character in Season 3 (the corrupt Detective Sal Benedetto), then was cast as Buntz in Season 6.